Ntombi looked at her watch; ten minutes had passed. It was time to go back into the party. When she reached the bar Mzi was all smiles. He put his arms around her in front of Thumi, who was chatting to another boy, and pulled her onto the dance floor.
“It’s only you,” he whispered into her ear as he pressed her against him. “Hop on my feet,” he said.
“Get on my feet, I’ll take you for a ride.” Ntombi stepped up onto Mzi’s shoes. Luckily she wasn’t wearing high heels, but pumps. She laughed. He moved around slowly. She felt his lips against her neck, and closed her eyes. Perhaps he was right. She could forget everything that had happened before. She could start again, in this moment, in his arms. When the song ended he took her head in his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. “I love dancing with you,” he said. “Now let’s get out of here, shall we?” She nodded.
On the way out she felt a hand pulling her back. Mzi was ahead of her making for the door, with a sudden urgency. Ntombi turned back. It was Lettie. “Hey chommie,” she said. “Come and dance with us. We’ve asked the DJ to play one of our old favourites. Everyone will be watching us.”
It was their favourite song, and they had even rehearsed their moves to it. They started taking over the dance floor, moving across it like they owned it. They would definitely be noticed. Mzi would think she was cool and he would be even prouder of her. But Mzi was already out of the door. Ntombi pulled away from them.
“I can’t,” she called. “I’ve got to go.”
“Where?” asked Lettie. “The fun’s only just starting.”
“Mzi is taking me home.”
“So early?” Ntombi saw the look of alarm on Lettie’s face. “That’s not like him.”
“How do you know?” Ntombi didn’t hear the answer, as Mzi reappeared in the exit and beckoned to her to join him. Lettie was lost in the crowd, so Ntombi joined Mzi and was steered quickly to his car. They got in, in silence. But he didn’t start the car immediately. He put a CD in the player. It was Lira, singing Ngiyazi fela.
“That’s going to be you one day soon,” said Mzi, and he put his arm around Ntombi. So he had listened when she told him about the auditions. There was obviously just a lot on his mind at the moment. She shouldn’t judge him. There could be problems at home that she knew nothing about – she knew what that was like, how it affected everything.
He started the car and wove his way between the jam of traffic to get out onto the open road. She was tired now. It had been a wild evening and she had felt out of her depth, she just needed some time alone in her room. Perhaps her sister would be asleep, and her mother would be out when they got back. She just needed some time to think things through and make sense of what had happened at the party. But instead of turning left to take the road back to her house, Mzi turned right and they were soon spinning down a road Ntombi didn’t know.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Somewhere special. One of my favourite places,” he said, smiling at her. “I wanted to show you. It means a lot to me.” That was so romantic. It was the kind of thing that Ntombi had read about in books. She smiled to herself. Perhaps he just wasn’t good in crowds. It was going to be alright. The evening was going to end well. But when he turned off the tar onto a dirt track that led down between tall trees to a small river, Ntombi felt anxious again. It was so isolated, so dark and remote. He stopped the car and they sat in silence for a minute.
“Look at the moon,” he said. “Let’s get out. It’s still warm.” They got out of the car and Mzi led her down to an old bench next to a trickle of water. Not so much a river as a polluted stream with litter washed up on the bank. Mzi put his arm around her. Ntombi leaned back and looked up. She would just forget the rubbish and look at the moon and stars. At least nobody could pollute them – not yet, anyway.
Mzi pulled her closer. Then he started kissing her. At first gently, and she felt herself melting in his arms. But then his kissing got more frantic and rougher. And his hands had pushed under her top and his fingers were busy trying to undo her bra. She pulled away. But he stood up and pulled her back against him. He pulled her bra off in one jerk and his hands were fumbling over her breasts. Then his hands were under her skirt. This was getting too heavy. Way too heavy.
“Mzi!” she tried to push away. “Mzi, stop!” she said louder. “Stop… stop or…”
“Or what? You’ll scream? Nobody will hear you. Besides, I know that trick. Girls always say ‘no, no, no’ when they really mean ‘yes’.”
“I do mean no.” But the words came out as a whisper as he started kissing her neck again.
“Okay, we’ll take it more slowly then,” he said. Then he stopped and looked at her with a look of what – scorn – on his face? “You’re not going to tell me this is your first time?” he asked. “Please don’t tell me you’re a virgin still.” Her silence gave him the answer.
“I’m only fifteen,” whispered Ntombi.
“Fifteen! What’s taken you so long?” Mzi laughed.
“I just… I just… I’m not ready…” said Ntombi.
“You just think you’re not ready. What you need is a guy like me. Do you know how lucky you are to have me for your first time?” She looked at the moon. She couldn’t look at his face. “Do you know how many girls…” he stopped. “Ok, look…” he stepped back. “Maybe I came on a little too strong… it’s just that I find you irresistible, girlfriend. You’re the sexiest…”
Ntombi didn’t know afterwards what would have happened if a car hadn’t driven down the track towards them with the headlights beamed straight at them. They were caught like startled animals in the beam.
“Shit,” said Mzi “Let’s get out of here.” They ran to the car, jumped in, and he reversed at speed back along the dirt track. There was a squeal of tyres as he spun the car on the tar and headed back towards the township. He turned the music up really loud, but Ntombi didn’t mind. She didn’t mind how fast he drove either, even though she knew it was dangerous and that he was way over the drunk-driving limit. The faster she could get home the better now. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be with him, she just didn’t want things to move so fast. Did it have to be all or nothing?
When they pulled up outside her house Mzi killed the music and took her hand.
“Ntombi. You’re a great girl, but …” There it was: that but, the word every girl dreaded. “Okay, so maybe tonight wasn’t the right time.” He took her hand and kissed it. “But I hope you’re not going to hold out on me for too long, because those kind of girls get really boring after a very short time. Those girls don’t deserve boyfriends like me. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Ntombi looked at him. He was smiling at her gently. She was so confused: how could he be so moody? Aggressive one minute, sweet the next? She smiled back at him. “I had a good time,” she found herself saying. “Thank you.” He stroked her cheek and then kissed it, gently.
Then he walked her to the door. “I’ll SMS you,” he said. She waved as he drove off into the night.
When she went inside her mother was sitting on the couch. “What time do you think this is?” She was angry. “And who was that guy?”
“Mzi, Mama. Remember, you met him already. Has everyone gone crazy? You knew I was going to the party.”
“I thought you were meeting up with your friends.”
“I did,” said Ntombi. It was partly true. She really didn’t want to get into this now with her mother. All she wanted to do was sleep. “And anyway,” Ntombi couldn’t stop herself, “who are you to ask me where I’ve been and what time I think this is?”
The slap came so fast it took Ntombi by surprise. Her cheek stung.
“Don’t forget who is the adult and who is the child here!” Her mother was furious.
There were tears in Ntombi’s eyes. All she wanted was for her mother to hug her, and say it would be alright. Instead her mother was attacking her. She’d almost had enough for one night – but there was still a little fight left in her. “Anyway,” Ntombi said, “I saw Zakes at Mama’s Tavern.” This wasn’t quite true, but she was so sure that it was his laugh she had heard.
“What were you doing there?” her mother said. “Don’t you know that’s not a place for kids?” Ntombi couldn’t take any more. She ran into their room and hid herself under the blankets, exhausted, and cried.